Fun and Games at the County Tax Window

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What one needs to realize about bureaucrats is that they are true entrepreneurs in two ways: (1) devising make-work projects to keep themselves busy (but not overworked), and (2) inventing new ways to gouge El Taxpayer Hombre, such that El T. Hombre ponies up out of astonishment if not sheer aesthetic appreciation of their creative skill. The whole thing can even be seen as funny — that is, if not too much of your own hard-earned is disappearing through the particular bureaucratic wicket involved on the occasion of your being so amused.

I have just been through a two-month long tango with the State of Texas to get my 1988 Corolla FX hatchback repaired, retitled, and back on the road all nicely legal. Let me sing my sad song.

First, I need to say, I do not drive a 1988 tiny Toyota because I love tiny Toyotas, although I do a bit love this old baby because she has been so faithful and so easy on repairs. I've got 145K miles on her, and have owned her for 15 of her 18 years. She had 40K miles on the odometer when she became mine. No, I drive it because my other car is a Bentley convertible, and putting that one back on the road would, as the British like to say, cost the earth. So Madame Bentley sits unrepaired in the carport.

If you believe that, I have a bridge . . . etc.

I was tooling around in my Toyota in a Walgreen "plaza" a few months ago, when, as I drew abreast of the Walgreen drive-in lane's exit onto the plaza, a Ford Taurus wagon shot out of the prescription-window drive and hit me squarely amidships on the passenger side. I had no passengers. The young woman driving the attack vehicle had aboard a friend and a child asleep in a kid-carrier. Said kid stayed asleep through the crash and most of the whole hour-long follow-up, so you see the thing happened at ultra low speed. Her car was undamaged. Mine was stove in to the extent, it turned out, of $1.2K at Danny's repair shop uptown.

After about a month of waiting for the young lady to respond to her insurance company, which she was choosing not to do, her insurance company issued her a warning they would pay my claim without her OK, unless she got in touch. Shortly before hearing that, I had heard from her insurance company that I should have the car inspected for repairs at their expense. Then, in another couple of weeks I heard they would pay me something like $1,000 dollars and "total" the car. State law permits them to do that if repairs exceed market value. They also offered me a lesser sum, the difference, about $500, being what I would have to pay to buy my totaled car back from them. I accepted that deal, and so kept the car.

A few weeks later, in response to an accident report I had had to file with the state, I learned that I would have to apply for a "salvage title," a curious appellation it seemed to me, since the title I already had was simply a title to the vehicle, with no liens on it. You might think that would be good enough to go forward on, but you would be thinking wrong. Or so the sovereign state of Texas said.

The State said, if I had questions to check with the County Tax Assessor. So I did. This is a large office with about 25 clerks lined up behind a sort of long bar waiting to deal with problems involving motor vehicles, of which there are evidently plenty (MV problems, that is). A kind lady there gave me two forms to fill out and send back to the state, with a small fee of course, I think $12.

Back from the state came some more forms and a more or less incomprehensible cover letter that sent me once again to the Tax Assessor. There, another kind lady filled out the new forms, indicated where they needed to be signed by myself and wife, and when I asked, "How much?" she said, "Well, when you come back, probably about $70," depending on something or other, I think the age and value of the car.

Back next day with the signed forms to the TA and still another kind lady: "That'll be $145.80, please." A deep blow to the solar plexus. I remonstrated. Oh, boy, did I ever. But finally I quit, since it was clear (a) the lady had heard it all before, and (b) was being pained and bored beyond expression.

I just checked the market value of my 1988 Toyota Corolla FX hatchback on the Kelly Blue Book web link. The value for a sale to a private party is now $1,035. Something is a little out of proportion in all this. Maybe the state assumes that the only people who can afford to repair old cars are rich people. It's a fact that in two more years my car will be a "classic" to the old motor crowd, and in only seven more, God save the mark, it will be an "antique," and eligible I suppose for "antique" license plates. (I will be 90.) Maybe they have me mixed up with Jay Leno.

A few days before I paid that whopping bill to legalize my car a friend had emailed me a version of a sort of "tax litany," that contains the line: "Tax his land, Tax his wage, Tax his bed in which he lays [sic] . . . " The thing goes on to list about a hundred or more taxes that we are subject to now that did not exist 100 years ago. But the near miracle of my tussle with the Ector County, Texas, Tax Assessor's office is that all of the charges and fees I paid are not even among the grotesque accumulation of taxes on that tax litany.

Here for the fun or perhaps the horror of it is the whole break-out:

Fees Assessed: TITLE APPLICATION FEE $ 13.00     TERP FEE 15.00     SALES TAX FEE 0.00     WINDSHIELD STICKER 40.50     REG FEE-DPS 1.00     REFLECTORIZATION FEE 0.30     CNTY ROAD BRIDGE ADD-ON FEE 10.00     AUTOMATION FEE (LARGE CNTY) 1.00     REBUILT FEE 65.00     Total $ 145.80    

November 23, 2006